The City of Stratford is seeking $500 million in damages from an American guardrail manufacturer.
A class-action lawsuit, filed by the municipality last week and first reported by ABC News, alleges the company's product is defective and dangerous.
Trinity Industries of Dallas has been under intense scrutiny for some time south of the border over its ET-Plus guardrail system, but this newest claim is the first from Canada.
In its complaint, which was obtained by ABC News, the city claims the company "misled its customers" by not disclosing "secret" modifications to its product.
"Trinity was aware of multiple serious failures of their secretly modified ET-Plus guardrail end terminals, but continued to manufacture and sell the modified version without disclosing the changes, resulting in tens of thousands of the units being installed across Canada," the complaint reads. "It is believed that there are tens of thousands of these defective, secretly modified, ET-Plus guardrail end terminals on the highways, as well as provincial and municipal roadways, across Canada."
Speaking with the Gazette Tuesday, CAO Ron Shaw said the lawsuit was authorized by city council during an in-camera session after concerns about the guardrails – which are installed in a number of locations throughout Stratford – were brought to the city's attention.
"We decided to move forward and agreed that we could act as the lead plaintiff in regards to this class-action suit," he said.
Shaw indicated the lawsuit can include any other municipality that has the ET-Plus guardrail system installed.
"The money would be distributed, if there is a reward, amongst the various municipalities," he added.
The ET-Plus guardrail system, which is used throughout the United States, was the subject of an ABC News "20/20" investigation last year. ABC News obtained an internal Trinity email from 2005 in which a Trinity official estimated that making a modification to its widely-used guardrail system – reducing a piece of metal in the end terminal from five inches to four – would save the company $2 per end terminal, or $50,000 a year.
Trinity made the modification that year without alerting US federal or state officials and critics have since blamed the change for rendering the end terminal defective when hit, sometimes impaling vehicles and causing severe injury or death. The company has maintained that the modified ET-Plus is safe and continues to meet federal standards.
News of the complaint from Stratford was first brought to light by Trinity itself in an annual shareholders report just filed by the publicly-held company in which it disclosed pending litigation.
"The Statement of Claim in this litigation generally alleges that Trinity Industries, Inc., Trinity Highway Products and Trinity Industries Canada, failed to warn of dangers associated with undisclosed modifications to the ET Plus guardrail end terminals, breached its implied warranty, breached its duty of care, and was negligent," the Trinity earnings report reads.
Stratford's complaint is the second of three class action lawsuits filed against Trinity surrounding the ET-Plus system. In November, a class action complaint was filed in Illinois on behalf of the counties in that state, alleging fraud on the part of Trinity for not disclosing the modifications. And last week a class action complaint was filed in Wisconsin, also alleging the company was fraudulent in selling the altered ET-Plus to transportation departments.
Three Canadian provinces - Quebec, Alberta and Nova Scotia - have suspended the use of the ET-Plus on its roadways, but Ontario has not removed the ET-Plus from its list of approved products.
– With files from Gazette staff